3/19/2013

Rav Eliezer Melamed on Kitniyot (and the elusive mung bean)

Over the past year or so, one of the project's I've been working on is the editing the translation of R. Eliezer Melamed's (thus far) 14 volume Peninei Halakha series, which is fast becoming the Religious-Zionist Shulchan Arukh. Our original plan was to release the volume on Pesach in time for the holiday, but we did not complete the work in nearly enough time. It will appear next year instead.

Nevertheless, we have decided to release one chapter as a preview/teaser. Embedded below is the chapter on kitniyot. In the introductory letter, I note that a lot went into making this translation as precise and accurate as possible, and nowhere is this more evident than in the list of kitniyot species at the beginning of section 4.

I spend about a day researching the identities of each species listed by Rav Melamed (all of which appear in earlier literature). The most difficult to pin down is a species called sapir in halakhic works. It appears in several lists of kitniyot, but without any translation into any other language. I eventually found that it appears in Rambam's laws of kilayim in Mishneh Torah. From there I contacted a friend who is a botanist and a talmid chakham. He did not know the identity of this species, but sent me on to mishna Kilayim 1:1 which mentions it among several other species of legume. R. Ovadia of Bertinoro translates it as cicer - chick peas. This species already appeared on R. Melamed's list. Rambam, however, translates it into Arabic as ma'ash.

From there I consulted with an Arabic-speaking friend, who was unfamiliar with the word but helped me navigate Arabic-language websites. We eventually found that it refers to a species known as mash beans, or she'u'it mash in Modern Hebrew. The English equivalent is "mung beans", and a look at cognates in other languages shows that both "mash" and "mung" descend from the term for this bean in central Asian languages like Urdu and Farsi. Mystery solved.

I bring this up as an illustration of the degree of precision used by Rav Melamed, and which we used in rendering his works into English.

Chag kasher ve-same'ach, and stay away from the mung beans.
Without further ado, Rav Melamed's chapter on kitniyot.


6 comments:

DW said...

How do you find working with Rav Melamed? I know little about him other than that was among those dati l'eumi rabbis criticized in R. Yitzhak Blau's Tradition article "Plowshares Into Swords" because of his religious-political extremist statements. That's something you've demonstrated sensitivity to. Do you feel conflicted about elevating Rav Melamed to the author of the "dati le'umi shulhan arukh?"

DW said...
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Elli Fischer said...

I do not see eye to eye with him politically, but politics rarely bleed into his halakhic work (in a few areas it clearly does, and arguably his entire method of psak is shaped by his vision of a fully functional yet completely halakhic RZ community, va-acm"l).
I have been extremely impressed with him as a person. I find him to be sincerely open to suggestions and criticisms.
A few years ago, I criticized his decision not to accede to a summons from Defense Minister Barak. That criticism remains, but has been mitigated by the fact that more recently he refused to attend a meeting called by leading Haredi rabbanim to discuss a united front on key political issues. He refused on similar grounds, namely, that the manner of meeting implied a hierarchy.
I now see that he consistently has a streak of defiance, independence, and pride, and I kinda like it.
His works are already the RZ Shulchan Arukh. Fait accompli. He wants to translate it all into English, Russian, French, and Spanish. IMHO, his strength is in his clear presentation, movement from basic principles to smaller details, and moderation.

Nachum said...

Why do you use the word "oats" without qualification?

Why not mention that peanuts, like potatoes (as you mention), are a New World food?

You may be confusing the similar Hebrew words for lecithin (which is generally made from soybeans) with the word for canola/rapeseed oil.

Elli Fischer said...

Nachum - the translation is exact. Shibbolet shu'al in a modern Hebrew work refers to oats, unless qualified (I am familiar with the positions of Prof. Felix and RSZA on the issue).
There is some inconsistency in the treatment of New World foods (peanuts, quinoa, soy, potato, corn). I hope to send the matter to REM for clarification.

Lecithin can be made from canola as well, and both soy and rape lecithin are addressed. Lecithin is לציטין , and rapeseed is ליפתית. There was no confusion.

Nachum said...

Elli: Got it. Maybe some footnotes?